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Will Confederate Museum Sell Out?


"In the absence of state support, our alternatives could be extremely painful, including the sale of part of the collection or the curtailment of critical programs and shortened hours of visitation," Executive Director S. Waite Rawls III wrote to museum supporters in November.

Since the state budget was announced June 20, the museum has cut at least one staff member, although the museum will remain open on a normal schedule for now, Rawls says.

The budget crisis caps a tough fiscal year for the museum. In the fall, the museum came under fire from its former treasurer and trustee, David H. Rankin Jr., and former director of finance and human resources, Nancy Witt — both of whom alleged financial mismanagement by Rawls.

Rankin accused Rawls of inflating budget figures "out of thin air" and subsequently resigned as the museum's treasurer.

Museum officials are reluctant to discuss the possibility of selling part of the museum's collection. "I'd rather not speculate on what those options are," museum board chairman Carlton P. Moffatt says. The museum's executive committee will meet July 12 to decide what to do, he says.

The museum is known nationwide for its "irreplaceable collections," says Conover Hunt, executive director of the Historic Richmond Foundation. Unlike other Civil War museums, the Museum of the Confederacy received many of its artifacts directly from veterans and their families, Hunt says.

"I would be shocked if they even considered [selling]," says Ben C. Sewell III, executive director of the international Sons of Confederate Veterans.

A "peer review" of the museum is under way. Led by H. Nicholas Muller III, retired president of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, a group of museum professionals is examining the museum's exhibits, policies and problems.

But the review will be cut short because of funding, Rawls says. In September the museum's board will meet to discuss the findings of the shortened review, Rawls says, and in October it will seek to have the museum included in the governor's budget amendments.

The Museum of the Confederacy attributes its declining visitor numbers to the recent growth of VCU Medical Center. Because of it, Rawls and the board led a public campaign seeking to move the 188-year-old White House of the Confederacy to a more accessible location. Preservationists protested, however, and the museum shelved the effort last year.

Visitation this summer, typically the busiest season for the museum, has been lower than last year, Rawls says, and more than half of visitors make "unsolicited negative comments" about how difficult it is to find the place and park. S

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